Sunday, 29 March 2015

Living the Paradox

“Innovators, like immigrants, feel compelled to take the step because they can no longer tolerate the place where they are.

“Complexity theory shows that great changes can emerge from small actions, that the possible, even the “impossible,” can happen.  That’s the part that involves keeping your head in the stars.  But what about keeping your feet on the ground?  How do social innovators do that?

“They face reality.

“Reality testing has a bad reputation among some visionaries.  Leaders tend to attract and surround themselves with believers – true believers, positive thinkers, hope-springs-eternalists.  Criticism is well known to undermine creativity, which is why it’s outlawed in brainstorming exercises.  But how can social innovators fully engage both their critical and creative faculties?  The answer lies in a commitment to reality testing that is no less fierce than the commitment to reach for the stars.

“Jim Collins, author of the best-selling management book Good to Great, studies with his research team how good companies become great.  Not many companies actually made the grade, but those that did all had leaders who lived the paradox between absolute dedication to a great vision and ruthless commitment to staring reality in the face.  Collins called this the Stockdale paradox in honour of James Stockdale, the fabled American navy officer who survived years of torture in North Vietnamese prisons.  Stockdale had an unwavering belief that he would survive and an equally unrelenting vigilance about the realities of his captivity.  He was constantly attuned to what was happening to him and his fellow prisoners, and adapted his survival strategies and tactics accordingly, day by day.  When, after a period of unusual good treatment, he realized that he was about to be used as propaganda to show the world how well prisoners were being cared for, he brutalized his own face so that he could not be so used.  Hearing how Stockdale managed to stay ever hopeful and survive, Collins asked him how he would characterize those who didn’t make it, those who died in captivity.  That’s easy, Stockdale replied.  The people who died were the unwavering optimists, the ones who said they’d be out by Christmas, and then by Easter, and then by summer’s end, and then again by Christmas, always and only focusing on some future hope.  They died, he said, of broken hearts.

“The great companies Collins’s team studied all shared an unrelenting belief in a better future and an obsession with data about the realities of the present.  They monitored the results of their initiatives relentlessly, tracking what was working and not working and how their environment was changing.  They allowed themselves no rose-coloured glasses, no blind spots, no positive thinking.  Ruthless attention to reality was the common path to attaining their visions.

“Social innovators epitomize the Stockdale paradox.  They are fiercely visionary and hopeful even while determinedly grounding their actions in the cold heaven of daily reality testing.  For them, hell is not failing; hell is delusion.  Hell is kidding yourself about what is going on, for therein are the seeds of failure sown.  In its essence, developmental evaluation is about learning what works, acknowledging what doesn’t work, and learning to tell the difference – with none of the blaming of cold heaven attached.”

You may be glad to know that I finally finished reading Getting To Maybe (How the World Is Changed).  These are the last quotations that I will use in a C4L Bulletin.

Without diminishing in any way what Jim Stockdale lived through, I can say that C4L is currently staring reality right in the face! 

On the one hand, the campus look green and trim, and has the biggest and best team that C4L has ever started a year with.  There is also more approved funding “in the pipeline” than ever before at the beginning of a year.  C4L continues to generate outputs – more training materials, more events, more outreach to youth and OVC. You can get dizzy from counting them all.

On the other hand, a close look at cash-flow caused C4L to literally increase its mortgage bond just to keep the wheels turning in early 2010.  The annual grantseeking drive is underway, and there are prospects.  Campus bookings are few and far between, as many NGOs are shrinking and some have closed.  So we actually have no choice but to watch that daily balance closer than ever!  At times like this, you ask yourself why donors insist that you spend every penny, and don’t allow retention!

It is not the first year that the early months have been tense – but in 2010 it is on a grander scale than ever, because C4L is growing.  I am not going offer optimistic forecasts that say it will be over by Easter.  Just ruthless attention to reality – C4L has the resourcefulness to pull through this slump in its annual cycle.  Just like real estate agents know the times of year when house sales are up, and when they are down – C4L is pinching but is gradually becoming drought-resistant.

The attached document refreshes the Vision that C4L has shared with you time and again.  It reiterates the same Mission of equipping God’s people for works of service.

Hell is not failing, if you don’t make it through the gauntlet.  Hell is delusion – thinking it will be a cake-walk.  We may be day-dreamers, but we are hard-nosed too.  We know where we stand.

We are living the paradox.

Because we can no longer tolerate the way things are in Africa.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Best Way to Give

Perhaps the predominant theme of my prayer letters since returning from South Sudan has been how to resource a ministry in the context of a shrinking economy.  Thus an article in today’s New York Times caught my eye.  I have cut and paste about half of it for you:

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

Excerpts from: Joshua Lott for The New York Times

PHOENIX — Perhaps no law in the past generation has drawn more praise than the drive to “end welfare as we know it,” which joined the late-’90s economic boom to send caseloads plunging, employment rates rising and officials of both parties hailing the virtues of tough love. 

But the distress of the last four years has added a cautionary postscript: much as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared. Despite the worst economy in decades, the cash welfare rolls have barely budged. 

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow. 

Critics of the stringent system say… the revamped law encourages states to withhold aid, especially when the economy turns bad. 

The old program… dates from the New Deal; it gave states unlimited matching funds and offered poor families extensive rights, with few requirements and no time limits. The new program… created time limits and work rules, capped federal spending and allowed states to turn poor families away. 
“My take on it was the states would push people off and not let them back on, and that’s just what they did,” said Peter B. Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who resigned from the Clinton administration to protest the law. “It’s been even worse than I thought it would be.” 

But supporters of the current system often say lower caseloads are evidence of decreased dependency. 
Even in the 1996 program’s early days, when jobs were plentiful, a subset of families appeared disconnected — left with neither welfare nor work. Their numbers were growing before the recession and seem to have surged since then. 
No Money, No Job

While data on the very poor is limited and subject to challenge, recent studies have found that as many as one in every four low-income single mothers are jobless and without cash aid — roughly four million women and children. Many of the mothers have problems like addiction or depression, which can make assisting them politically unpopular, and they have received little attention in a downturn that has produced an outpouring of concern for the middle class.

This really grabbed my attention!  It is so similar to the controversy that South Africa is facing!

As I have stated repeatedly, there is a double jeopardy for youth in South Africa, where the populations chart bulges at the bottom (not at the top like North America).  Not only is unemployment on the rise, but demographically the ranks of the unemployed are comprised largely by those under 35.

Under apartheid, a minority of “the haves” kept at a distance from the majority of people who were “the have-nots”.  They mixed during working hours, but after that each had to go into a zone defined by skin-colour.  This was immoral.

Today the scenario is that during working hours, the work place is occupied mainly by people over 35, while 74% (national average) of the 45% unemployed (in our province) are out of work?  They don’t mix with youth in the work place, but then they go back after hours to “the community” where youth are idle, frustrated and angry.  This is immoral too, in my view - a kind of generational apartheid.

When ever the subject of unemployment comes up in South Africa, government’s one-liner is always “skills development”.

But I have to wonder how far-sighted that is.  Why give skills to youth in the context of a shrinking number of jobs (it’s down 3 million since 1995)?

While I am a great believer in promoting Entrepreneurship and the “informal sector” as the best way to create employment, I also feel that Welfare is part of the problem.  Almost one in three South Africans in on some kind of direct state assistance – over 13 million the last time I saw statistics.  This must be rising too, unlike in the USA - according to the article above, where states have kept the lid on it.

I have to say that some kind of increase in Welfare is inevitable here, as South Africa passes through this period of world economic recession.  The big challenge is that “welfare as we know it” can create Dependency.  Particularly when offered to youth whose prospects of entering the job market are dismal.  What a terrible way to start out your life as a young adult!  And so many of these are the ones who lost one or more parents ten years ago when government was resisting the roll-out of ARVs!  Is their government going to fail them again, by taking away their incentive and entrenching the grid lock that keeps them out of jobs at entry level?  A new way needs to be found.

At Easter we celebrate something that could not happen – but did.  Pray for such a miracle in South Africa.  Another such miracle.  In the age brackets used in South Africa, Jesus was a youth.  (Under 35.)  Just about the same age as Julius Malema is today!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Another Prayer Priority

"No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10: 29-30)

I hope so!

I hang on to the promise of eternal life, although I worry that it can become an opiate...

Yes I have experienced persecutions.  In the past year these include deprivation by an abusive boss who has held back over 50% of my annual income, isolation like Elijah in the cave, hate-speech, and invasion of my privacy.  Was it "for me and the gospel"?  I say so - because I stood up for justice, I blew the whistle on corruption, I hated evil (Romans 12:9) and I contested xenophobia.  Even the deprivation of my salary was justified in one deposition on the grounds that I am a missionary and therefore should contribute my time to community service.  (Even though this same guy had signed an employment contract with me 2 months earlier!)

You have heard this all before, in one prayer letter or another!  So I will move on to the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

Tomorrow is the fourth major meeting in as many weeks.  It started on Monday Feb 4th when I met a Director General in Pretoria and 6 of his advisors, accompanied by a fellow C4L Board member.

That meeting had a domino effect... on Tuesday Feb 12th a Round Table of 15 role-playes was convened to hear C4L's case.  The consequence of that meeting was an invitation by our counterpart organization to meet again in Pretoria on Tuesday Feb 19th.  By this time they realized that we had "blown their cover" and that they were in check.
Tomorrow I hope we can put them in check-mate at the fourth meeting, here in White River, in the offices of C4L's attorney.

I was surpressing tears this morning in church as we sang these words from an old hymn: "That Christ has regarded my helpless estate".  I can tell you, Elijah in a cave is truly a "helpless estate".  That is where I was only weeks ago.  But He can turn weakness into strength.  The same One who created a universe out of nothing promises me "much in this present age".

Please remind Him for me of His promise, and that tomorrow's meeting could seal the deal that will put C4L back into its righful place in an equitable and just Joint Venture.

Nevertheless, we are still insisting on Partition.  Once bitten, twice shy.  We want our counterpart organization to work on the highveld and let C4L run the CWP programming where we are located, here in the Lowveld.  We are citing irreconcilable differences and just asking that a space be carved out for C4L in its own natural habitat.

My counterpart is facing several counts of fraud and his NGO is shaken by the prospect of his possible departure - to jail.  DV.  So they are back-peddling.

So please pray for me as we enter this final phase of negotiations.  Failing which C4L is in a legal position now to effect dissolution.  And speaking morally, to do so without it seeming like we are suicide bombers!  For the consequences of dissolution are chaotic.  But all the role players are now forewarned and forearmed and there is growing recognition that C4L has been abused, sidelined, maligned and deprived... so no one will be too surprised if it comes to that.

Thanks for your prayers.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Expecting the Unexpected

Summer is here is all its glory.  Longer days, such heat that it generates “weather” that closes in and cools down temperatures.  Plenty of good rainfall, making the hills and mountains green, green, green.

Christian Week is one of the journals that I receive from Canada on e-mail.  The current issue has an article by Glen Shepherd, the president of Health Partners.  In it he mentions a booklet by Henri Nouwen - A Spirituality of Fundraising - in which one of my favourite writers contends that fundraising is the opposite of begging.  It is actually, says the late Nouwen (who was a Dutch Catholic priest), a form of ministry: “fund-raising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry."

If you think that I write too much about charity and giving then please look up this link.  From my work with NGOs, I have learned that the more senior you become in an organization, the less you can escape this ministry!  Truly I enjoy my involvement in programming more, but you can’t enjoy driving or the scenery unless you stop periodically to refuel!  It’s a fact of NGO life, and of my life.

I was recently reflecting on the contextual changes that have affected this ministry in recent decades.  It took me back to the first years of my life in colonial Africa, and through several phases up to the present.  In fact, I would say that we are still in transition to another new phase, but no one is sure exactly what it will be like.  The following table sums it up.  If you want a deeper analysis, contact me and I will send a 2-pager to you:

Missionary outreach
Colonialism – Major economies ruled areas overseas
(ended in the 1960s)
Like David Livingston, close alignment with colonial powers… mostly expatriates
“Support” – regular giving from families, friends and churches. Long periods away.
Independence – New countries emerging under the U.N. framework needed “balance of payments support” (until 1980)
Mainline churches declared a “moratorium on missions” but this was not observed by most evangelicals
“Mission-initiated churches” expected programme funding from their mother agencies, who found it hard to wean them
Grantmaking – Donors wanted more transparency and to target their funding to “projects” (peaked around 2005)
Missions were able to wean some expenses, like schools and hospitals, and to switch the focus to other priorities
Paradigm-shift caused resources to flow to agencies like World Vision more and to classical Missions less
Corporate Social Investment (CSI) – Government funding mainly for bi-lateral or U.N. while NGOs tap funds mainly from private sector
Strengthening civil society in every country has caused a huge proliferation in the number of “partners” – to say nothing of “projects”!
For better or for worse, churches and even companies began to be more “hands-on”, bringing a more corporate ethos to “the business of aid”

Speaking of CSI, there is an annual CSI Handbook published in South Africa and C4L’s solar/youth programme is featured in it, thanks our corporate donor – ABSA Foundation.  Just released!

By the way, at this stage grantmaking has not been entirely replaced by CSI, but there is a fair level of disappointment with the project paradigm.  It was mainly an exit from the previous phase!  But it was not a final destination after all.  CSI has also had mixed reviews, so there is experimenting going on with new paradigms.  Four of these are:

Missionary outreach
Quick Wins - $200,000 was raised in one afternoon in Oregon to save a beached whale.  From fast-food and Polaroid to aid: “We want that problem fixed – now!”
Short-term missions allow the givers to get involved – like CSI.  A Kindle run by solar energy now offers a listening Bible in the vernacular for $5!  Literacy just takes too long!
On-going missionary support or programme funding seem tedious by comparison.  But some things – like that 9 months gestation period – just cannot be hastened!
Augmentation – The opposite of proliferation.  The business world thinks “merger” unlike churches and NGOs which have tended to split easily.
C4L is hosting foreign learners attending a local private school.  This raises C4L’s occupancy rate and generates some baseline income.
C4L never wanted to split, and is looking for other synergies.  For example, with another NGO specializing in rainwater harvesting, to link to our Solar.
Inclusive Business – When it comes to job creation and some sectors like Renewable Energy, it may be better for business to be the channel, not an NGO?
C4L has started the Africa Power and Light Co-op in part because NGOs really can’t do business (it would be unfair trading as we are tax exempt).
This is basically what St. Paul did – he produced tents to support his own ministry.  One missions paradigm is thus called “tentmaking”…
Supporting key people instead of projects – For example, Tearfund has a programme called “Inspired Individuals”.  The funding is linked to a person rather than a plan.
Mother Theresa was partly funded on this basis.  For example, she could board KLM going anywhere, at no cost.  That is how the airline honoured her and her work.
It may take time for those “Inspired Individuals” to become recognized?  That could be another trap that favours the advantaged and disfavours Youth?  

On a personal note

As many of you know, I am hoping to announce soon, possibly in my next prayer letter, a new conduit of Canadian funding for C4L.  There are always two sides to the ledger, and my decision to stay put at C4L comes with some costs to C4L.  These costs do not relate only to orphans, although C4L’s Child Protection programme does continue to operate.  To a great extent, my role at C4L has been, is and will continue to be resource mobilization.  The ministry of fundraising.  To some, this news may feel like a throwback to the colonial missionary support paradigm.  But I like to think of it as support a person rather than a project – an inspired individual, if you will.

Expecting the Unexpected

In a way, a fundraiser never knows for sure which one of numerous contacts in the “proposals pipeline” is going to be approved.  So although you are doing this continuously, year in and year out, you never know what to expect!  But nevertheless you have expectations!

As C4L’s cash flow drooped in late 2011, I wondered what would happen.  It was nerve-racking.  We came right to the edge of insolvency.  Then the awaited unexpected happened, in the last week of December.  God is good, all the time!  This week there have been two promising signs.  First, ACEK school renewed its boarding of learners on campus for 2012.  We knew they were looking at their options, so we didn’t know what to expect.  Second, ABSA Foundation very suddenly requested a major proposal within 24 hours – because they discovered some residual funding that was unspent in 2011.  Another submission deadline on January 31st – a lot of ministry work to do!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Responsibility & Complicity

The late great Peter Drucker wrote a lot about management and organizations for a period of over 50 years.  Later in his career, he turned his focus to nonprofit organizations.  Noting the fact that these are often named for what they are not (e.g. nonprofit, non-government), not for what they are, he came to the conclusion that the bottom line for them is changed lives.

Changing lives involves many facets – education and health are usually the first two that come to mind. 

There are different modes as well – from giving people fish to teaching them how to fish, and on to making sure that the waters they depend on are not over-fished. 

There are different motives, too, from selfish (e.g. Japanese ODA includes a lot of road building!) to altruistic. 

Change must be holistic as well – for if you don’t change deep attitudes and superstitions, often new behaviours are only superficial.

Change agents can themselves be among the causes of social injustice – part of the problem as well as part of the solution.  The chickens come home to roost.  When we are busy as change agents, we ourselves have to be open to change.  Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Alcoholics Anonymous promotes the slogan: “If you want to change others, first change yourself.”

The story that follows captures several important themes.  Remember it next time you pass through the airport named after him!

First, that change agents cannot totally externalize the blame for what has gone wrong in the world.  They may be admirable, but they are not blameless. 

Second, that we have to give of ourselves to save others.  We are not merely brokers between donors and beneficiaries.  Taking it personally is mission-critical. 

Third, that we are too often too quick to blame the victims for their problems.  Any “situation report” or “problem analysis” needs to be reflective not just journalistic.

In 1935, on a winter night, Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor of New York City, showed up at night court in the poorest part of the city.   He let the Judge go for the evening and he took over the bench. 

A woman in torn clothing, charged with stealing a loaf of bread, was brought to stand before LaGuardia.   She told LaGuardia that her son-in-law had deserted her extremely sick daughter, and that her grandchildren were starving.   The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges, however, saying she needed to be punished. 

LaGuardia sighed, turned to the old woman, and said, "I've got to punish you.   The law makes no exceptions.   Ten dollars or ten days in jail." 

As soon as he pronounced the sentence, however, LaGuardia took a $10 bill out of his pocket and threw it into a hat.   And he said: "Here's the $10 fine, which I now remit.   Furthermore, I'm going to fine each person 50 cents in this courtroom for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.   Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." 

The next day, a New York newspaper reported that $47.50 was turned over to the grandmother who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren.

Dorothy Day’s philosophy was “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable”.  Change agents have to do both.  For we all share both responsibility and complicity.

The bend in the road
Could be the end of the road
If we fail to make the turn.

On Volunteering and Voluntarism

A great writer, one of the greatest, wrote a book about two cities… 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…

The best of times

Saturday was Mandela Day.  Taking my own advice from the previous C4L bulletin, I got out there for 67 minutes of community service.  I identified a visible need – to clean up the litter strewn along Touyz road, which C4L’s long laneway empties into.  It is a paved city street, traveled by car and traveled by foot – depending on which of the two cities you come from.

From beer bottles to cigarette butts, I picked them up – by hand.  I got some exercise, but not exactly fresh air considering the unpleasant aromas that I encountered.  To the passers-by, I explained that it was Mandela Day and that I was serving my community by cleaning up the environment.  Mostly, they laughed.

Last year in a media interview, Desmond Tutu “slammed ordinary South Africans who have no regard for the rule of law and carelessly litter, drive dangerously and neglect and abuse children, among other things…”   We live in a land of littering.

What can you do?  Mandela Day seemed like a good opportunity to make a start.  It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.  I filled four green garbage bags with litter and left them at the end of the lane for garbage day on Friday.

The worst of times

Sunday morning I went to church.  After church I did a bit of shopping, having long since re-interpreted that commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy.

When I turned into the lane, almost home, I got quite a start!  The green garbage bags were disappearing.  The garbage remained clustered in the form of bagging, like some weird modern-art sculpture, but the outer balers had disappeared!

Sure enough, someone had untied the knot at the top of the bags, turned them over, and snafooed those green garbage bags!

Foolishness and incredulity indeed...  it just took the wind out of my wisdom and belief!  Is the grip of poverty so tight that the balers used to bag garbage are of sufficient value for someone to steal?  Bag lifting?!  Carpet baggers takes on a whole new meaning – not just for a northerner like me who went to the South to make money…

Was there still a “Yankee go home” message in there some where?  Or just pure poverty?  The term carpetbagger became synonymous with any outsider who meddles in an area's political affairs for his own benefit.  Is there some xenophobia brewing again?

Interestingly enough, carpet bags were an early form of recycling.  Saddlemakers rescued old worn out rugs and cut them up, salvaging remnants still in good condition to make cheap bags.  I wouldn’t mind if they recycled the garbage – but the garbage bags?!  Give me a break.

The epoch of incredulity
I learned yesterday from Adam Habib, a reliable source, that 70 per cent of the funding that fuels South African NGOs come from government sources.  So much for them being non-governmental organizations!

South Africa has been described as a first world country and a third world country occupying the same space.  Another tale of two cities.  Some say that the problem is poverty.  Others say the problem is disparity.  The best of times and the worst of times travel down the same street, Touyz Road, right at the end of C4L’s long laneway.

Habib says that unemployment in South Africa had doubled since the first democratic elections in 1994 – before we entered the Great Recession.  Food for thought.

Some of you know how I have agonized – for a year at least - over the proportions of C4L’s support base.  85 per cent over the past 10 years from sources outside South Africa is too high to suggest the degree of local ownership that is a propos of a mixed campus community.  C4L may have a spectacular track record in terms of service delivery, but government is moribund when it comes to sharing the loot with NGOs.  (Which, in turn – on average – draw 70 per cent of their funding from government sources.  In that respect, C4L is a conspicuous exception!)

We live in a culture of looting.  Not just the disappearing act at the end of our laneway, but this could go a long way to explaining why there is so little “trickle down” for NGOs.  It’s the Colorado River syndrome – very little gets through to the poor, who are left to rob people’s garbage bags off the street.

No wonder that people are rising up violently in the townships of Mpumalanga to protest the lack of government service delivery.  One new minister in the new cabinet bought not one but two Mercedes cars – one to use in Pretoria the other to use while at his Capetown office – for over one million Rand.  That would run the whole gamut of C4L operations for 6 months!

Worse yet, the Department of Health and Social Development in our province was the only ministry in 2008 that actually returned money to the Treasury – that it couldn’t spend!  Other departments asked for and received budget increases, but DSD sent millions of Rand back - because they underspent!

C4L exists to develop the capacity of people, organizations and networks in civil society – the nonprofit sector.  It promotes both volunteering and Voluntarism.  It is never been convinced that a minimum wage for volunteers makes sense, but tries its best to adapt and contextualize in recognition that there are two cities, a world apart.

But it ain’t easy at times!!!